07:34 GMT +328 July 2017
Live
    White House

    Democracies? Where are Democracies?

    © Flickr/ Glenn Pope
    Columnists
    Get short URL
    Dmitry Babich
    3758581176

    As a former Soviet citizen born in 1970 and a graduate of Moscow State University's department of journalism, class 1992, I belong to the generation that was taught to emulate the Anglo-Saxon standards of journalism.

    I remember how in 1986, because there were only two national channels on Soviet television, the whole nation watched the first uncensored interview of a Western leader in the Soviet media – that was the interview of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with three Soviet journalists. Mrs. Thatcher then said a phrase which ran counter to everything our history teachers had half-heartedly taught us at school. She said: "There was no precedent in history when one democracy would attack another one."

    Next day at my high school 95 percent of my classmates agreed with Thatcher and lambasted the poor three journalists for asking her "provocative" questions. The phrase about "democracies not fighting each other" in the next 10-15 years would become a commonly held opinion in Russia, with most of Gorbachev's and Yeltsin's foreign and security policies being based on this belief. We should become a democracy – and then we shall be safe.

    In the years following 1986, we were told numerous times about other important elements of Western democratic world.

    Democracies do not have political campaigns, with hatred against an "enemy nation" fanned by the media and hostile foreign politicians demonized to the point of de-humanization; democracies are soft-spoken, with a prohibition of depicting whole ethnic groups as hostile or in any other way dangerous; democracies are never paranoid about foreign spies, just vigilant… Also in a democracy, you respect your opponent during a discussion, you argue against his opinions, and not his personality, you don't present your opponent as a foreign agent or a person on someone else's payroll, etc.

    Like the majority of Russians, I had my first doubts about some of the Western countries being democracies after NATO's attack against Yugoslavia in 1999. I gave credence to Western reports about "hundreds of thousands" of Albanians having been slaughtered in Kosovo before the start of NATO's bombing in spring 1999, so I expected the mass graves to be uncovered soon after the Serb troops left Kosovo in summer the same year. But months went by, and those same Western journalists who had written about the mass graves in Spring 1999 suddenly lost interest in the theme, compensating the absence of apologies to readers with continued curses against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

    Influenced by them, I was eager to denounce Milosevic as an extremist nationalist in my liberal newspaper where I worked at the time, The Moscow News. So, I took the Serb-Russian dictionary, went to library and read all of Milosevic's speeches in search of ethnic slurs and great power posturing. I COULD NOT FIND A SINGLE QUOTE. So much for modern Western democracies not de-humanizing their opponents.

    But may be it was just an aberration? Maybe democracies still avoid ethnic slurs themselves and are immune to "spy-mania"? OK, I read a recent article in The New York Times, about "two top Republicans in Congress supporting investigations into possible Russian cyberattacks to influence the American election."

    "The Russians are not our friends," the Senate's majority leader Mitch McConnell is quoted as saying, having accused "Russians" of hacking the Democrats' email servers – without any evidence presented. "We need to approach all these on the assumption the Russians do not wish us well," McConnell added.

    The phrase made me nostalgic of Cold War times. Even in the period of tension in the early 1980s it was unthinkable for a Soviet official to say that America as a nation were our enemies. We Soviets, in fact, had our own variant of political correctness, without knowing it. "Certain circles in Washington" and some faceless "world imperialism" were our enemies, not "Americans" at large.

    As for spy-mania, senator McConnell's description of the CIA is so enthusiastic, it makes the Soviet cult of the "first Chekist" Felix Dzerzhynski look like scathing criticism. Speaking at a congressional hearing, McConnell confessed to "having the highest confidence in the intelligence community, especially the CIA." Outpacing any praise one could hear addressed to the KGB until the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, McConnell added that the "CIA is filled with selfless patriots, many of whom anonymously risk their lives for the American people."

    Another senator, Lindsey Graham, demanded "crippling sanctions" against Russia, because some anonymous "Russians" allegedly hacked his campaign' email. With this sort of attitude, there won't be many "non-crippled" nations left on the face of the Earth, since even Israel was accused of spying on the US… So much for absence of spy-mania in modern Western democracies.

    Do these senators understand that their statements discredit the notion of the US and its allies being democracies? The whole campaign against Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson (he was denounced for having talked to Putin during his business trips to Russia) – do the perpetrators of this campaign know what it reminds Russians of?

    In the 1930s, Stalin gave an unofficial order to locate and punish (sometimes by death) all people who had ever had contact abroad with Leo Trotsky or his son, Vladimir Sedov, after their exile from the USSR in 1929. The mere instance of a talk, let alone a dinner, with Leo or Vladimir was seen as a "license to execution."

    So, when I read articles in The Washington Post denouncing Michael Flynn for having attended a gala dinner with Putin in 2015, you can understand the historical parallels. And when senator Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted about Tillerson that "being a 'friend of Vladimir' is not an attribute I am hoping for a secretary of state," howis that different from the prohibition on unsanctioned encounters with foreigners the one the Soviet Union had for many years?

    History seems to have come full circle. The dark pages of the USSR's past reveal themselves to be a lesson even more useful to modern Westerners than to modern Russians.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    Related:

    Russophobia and Sinophobia
    Top-5 Facts You Need to Know About US State Sec-to-be Tillerson and Russia
    'Russian Hackers' and the Coup Against Trump
    Alternative View: Could USSR Have Avoided Dissolution, Overcome Crisis?
    Tags:
    journalism, democracy, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Michael Flynn, Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, United States, Russia, Yugoslavia, USSR
    Community standardsDiscussion
    Comment via FacebookComment via Sputnik
    • Сomment